Tag Archives: Recovery

My cooking principles

This past weekend I experimented with an old childhood staple: Hamburger Helper. I cooked the Cheeseburger Macaroni blend, using a pound of ground beef and whole milk. I housed the whole thing and eating it felt equal parts good and disgusting. It was a great way to get a bunch of beef in me quickly, but I don’t think I’m going out of my way to do that again.

Part of that is I don’t eat as much processed food as I used to, let alone not nearly as much as most people. So my system doesn’t agree with a lot of it as much as the next gut.

On average I eat clean from food that’s whole and/or prepared at home at least 80% of the time. While I’m not opposed to delicious processed food like pizza, hamburgers, donuts, chips, etc, I mostly cook whole food from scratch, or eat food that’s lightly processed… like a can of sardines in oil or frozen meat in a bag (i.e. the food had to be cut and then processed into the can, but it’s basically in its native form rather than blended with 75 chemicals).

I have cleaned up my diet gradually over the last few years. Even now I can say there’s room for improvement, and if I want to move into that room I’ll give it a shot. I have a set of rules that I settled into following over the last few years: Whether or not I set out to follow them on day one, I found over time that they suited me well as habits, and so they became rules to live by.

I bake and boil everything that’s cooked. No frying.

Ask my parents: I LOVE fried food. It’s a blessing I haven’t had daily ready-access to it because I’d probably be 500 pounds or dead right now from addiction to it.

I still love it. I just don’t eat it that often. I’ll have it now and then as a treat, or when I’m back in Vegas visiting my family. And, most of all, I don’t fry anything at home.

This isn’t necessarily some health-kick rule that I elected to follow. I actually have two practical reasons why I don’t fry food at home.

  1. It’s messy. Fried oil splatters everywhere during cooking, even with a splatter screen. You leave yourself a mess of oil and other debris that you have to clean up. I don’t have time or patience for that.
  2. The only oils I cook with don’t fry well, and the only oils that do are bad oils I won’t eat. I’ll get into the oils I cook with in a bit, but neither of them have high flash points, meaning they can be dangerous to fry with. A lot of conventional cooking oils are bad for your health, and go figure all of them are recommended frying oils. No, thank you.

So, to cook food the way I like, I resort mainly to two methods. I bake and boil nearly all of my cooked food. Now and then I’ll simmer food in a saucepan or skillet, or heat it in the microwave. I also use a rice cooker for rice. But generally speaking my main cooking resources are hot water and the oven (and I guess the rice cooker is a form of boiling, if you think about it).

No fancy anything. Simple food cooked, in oil when applicable, with simple seasoning.

For someone who cooks a lot, I don’t have much of a personal cookbook. If I wrote one consisting of every useful recipe I knew, it would be a pamphlet that would be too offensively brief and basic to charge money for.

I bake food in oil until it’s palatably cooked. I boil food until it’s softened up enough to palatably eat. I season food to taste with garlic salt. The only garnish I put in a baking dish is oregano and garlic powder, maybe turmeric. The fanciest I ever get is a baked cut potato dish my mother taught me a couple years ago, and if in the mood I can garnish brown rice with some pretty good side items.

But I don’t get too crazy with cooking. It probably seems boring to an otuside eye, but I like the way I cook, and it keeps the food in a healthy, easy to quantify state.

That last point is important: I log every meal I eat, and knowing how much of what ingredient I used is important. Keeping cooking simple, or eating whole fruit, vegetables and other foods, makes tracking macros and calories easy.

It’s when you make some weirdo casserole with 20 ingredients, let alone going out to eat at a restaurant, that tracking your calories becomes difficult.

I only cook with expelled pressed coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil.

Most other cooking oils present a variety of long term health concerns, while to this day extra virgin olive oil remains an antioxidant-rich recommendation.

However, most olive oils are fake olive oil, mixed with canola and vegetable oil by manufacturers and even many boutique olive producers to save money. There is a thin but sizable list of brands that have been verified as actual honest-to-goodness olive oil. I’ll join a growing bandwagon and recommend California Olive Ranch, which is a bit pricey but I’ve definitely noticed the difference. You actually notice the olives in this oil, unlike other brands.

As for coconut oil, it not only contains various healthy lipids etc, but is also a known antifungal. People even use it as a body cream! People who suspect they have candida or other similar gut issues, as well as any fungal-related infections, would do themselves good to incorporate coconut oil into their diets.

The less processed, the better. The best form is expeller pressed (not refined) virgin coconut oil, and it can be found at most organic-focused stores including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Look at the bottom of any jar and make sure there’s no distinct yellow deposit at the bottom (this indicates it’s been contaminated) before you buy.

I’ve been cooking with expelled pressed virgin coconut oil for years, and it’s my go-to cooking oil for most dishes. Sometimes I’ll even do faux-bulletproof coffee, and pour a tablespoon into a cup of black coffee. Granted, this is a come-and-go habit, and depends on what I’m doing for work at the time. But it can be used similar to how cream and butter is used.

I cook enough for one meal and eat exactly that. No leftovers.

I don’t do leftovers. Don’t get me wrong: If I end up with leftovers, I’m happy to eat them later. What I mean is I don’t cook more than I end up eating.

I know exactly how much I can and should eat for a given meal, and that’s what I prepare for dinner. I’d probably be a terrible cook for two: I know how much I can eat, but how much would the other person eat? Will I end up making too much or too little?

I do prepare big meals… and I eat the whole thing. I don’t worry about plate sizes or portioning or anything, because I plan that ahead of time. If I don’t clean the plate, something’s wrong.

Anyone can do this, though it takes trial and error (or preparing enough for leftovers!) to figure out exactly how much food you can typically expect to put down in a meal.

Dishes must take no more than one hour to prepare.

I’ve got enough other stuff I want to do (like write this post!). I don’t want to spend hours fumbling at the kitchenette over a complicated recipe or assembly of food. I also don’t want to wait forever for a meal to be ready once I’ve decided to cook a meal.

From the moment I fire up the oven until the moment I put a plate full of prepared food on the table shouldn’t take longer than 60 minutes. No recipe I’ve attempted has survived without taking less than a hour to cook. Not to stand over and physically prepare, but to go from nothing to finished product. This includes oven time.

If nothing else, once I’ve decided I need to eat a full meal I need to get to eating as quickly as reasonably possible.

  • I often eat after workouts, and you have a limited window for maximum nutrient absorption.
  • Going too long between getting hungry and finally eating does mess with me physically in a variety of ways.
  • And again, I’ve got finite time to do various things, so I want to get to eating as efficiently as possible.

Thus nothing I prepare takes more than a hour. Most of my typical meals take about 50-60 minutes to cook.

Bonus Tip: Does your stovetop get hot when you use the oven? Do you plan to boil a dish along with your baked dish? Get a head start on boiling water by filling your pot with water and sitting it on the unlit stovetop after you’ve put your other dish in the oven. The heat from the oven will conduct into the water pot, giving you a bit of a head start on warming the water before you turn the stove on to boil.

Bonus Tip #2: If you’re going to boil water, fill the pot with HOT water rather than cold water. It saves time on heating the water to a boil. I find it amusing how often I see people pour cold or even chilled water into a pot for heating or boiling, given the objective.

I’m always washing dishes.

I have two plates, one set of flatware, one bowl and one of each pan. I don’t own a dishwasher (and after decades of hand-washing dishes I’m not sure I could ever handle living with one).

You’re either going to wash dishes after cooking or wash dishes before you need to cook again.

Bonus factoid: Did you know that you’re technically supposed to replace your dishwashing sponge once a week? That probably seems excessive to almost everybody. Even now I maybe swap mine out once a month. I haven’t died yet doing so, obviously, so that’s probably okay. I don’t mind using mass produced brands but I’m partial to Twist.


So that’s my approach to cooking. I may share dishes some time down the road, but again I’m not a particularly creative cook and chances are good you’d find my recipes boring compared to what you’re used to.

However, I feel like the principles above may be worth considering and giving a shot. Some of them may help you improve your diet and allow you to more consistently cook healthy, easy to prepare meals.

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Feeling tired? It’s probably one of these things

I can’t tell you how many years in Seattle I battled lethargy despite a busy schedule full of theatre commitments I was very into. I definitely became one of those guys who pounded coffee and energy drinks in the afternoon or evening, to try and keep the motor going for that night’s action.

Needless to say, I’ve since figured out how terri-bad that approach was for my health. I still indulge in the occasional afternoon cup of coffee (decaf if it’s around), or a caffeine-free vitamin/energy drink like FitAid (which they sell at Whole Foods in Chicago).

But generally the only stimulant you’ll see me take anymore is a morning cup of coffee.


Of course, the problem of lacking energy goes well beyond what stimulation you’re giving yourself. Pretty much everyone struggles with low energy and feeling tired, and I’m still to this day no exception.

The difference between the 2011 Me, who would pound a 5 Hour Energy before a show performance to keep from falling over, and the 2018 Me… is that 2018 Me knows the reason for feeling tired comes down to one of these four things:

Lack of sleep:

The most obvious one. If you’re not sleeping well in general, let alone haven’t slept well the night before, you’re probably going to flatline at some point in the day.

A good general rule is that, for every 1 hour of sleep, you get 2 hours of not wanting to fall asleep. If you get 8 hours of sleep, you should be able to get through the other 16 hours of the day reasonably alert before heading to bed.

But… if you only get 4 hours sleep, then you may be okay until about 8 hours after you awake. For example: If you stay up until 3 am, then wake up at 7 am… even if you seem okay to go to work that morning… things will probably feel manageable until about 3pm, at which point you should crash hard enough that no energy stimulant can really save you. Get home and get to bed ASAP.

I’ve noticed this is pretty much what happens to me after a night of short sleep, to the hour. And of course, even before that crash moment, a lack of sleep can leave you feeling worse for wear even after a cup of morning coffee.

Sleep is not overrated! It is in fact very underrated, especially as you get older.

Lack of nutrient-rich whole foods in your diet:

In the past, whenever I felt like garbage, I often looked back at what I had recently eaten and notice a lot of crappy processed food: Pizza, instant meals, fried foods, etc. I clean up and eat healthier for the next meal… and I feel better over the next few days. In some cases, I may even feel better as soon as the next nutritious meal.

You are definitely what you eat, and I would suspect a lot of people who feel down and lethargic all the time, let alone get sick a lot, probably don’t eat good food in its whole natural form. They probably ate nothing but stuff out of packaging.

Lack of water:

It’s more than a song by The Why Store. It’s more than a detriment to exercise. It’s often a key reason people feel lethargic.

And it’s one of my basic initial tests, not to mention one of my quickest remedies, when I suddenly find myself low on energy. If I drink a few ounces of water and suddenly feel more alert and ready to go, I know my low energy was due to slight dehydration. I’m surprised at how often this is the cure to low energy.

People tend to fall into two polarized camps with water. There are the people who carry a water bottle and drink water religiously throughout the day. And there are people who don’t really think about water at all and only drink when it occurs to them.

Many of the latter probably drink a lot of processed drinks and even alcohol instead. I imagine they feel terrible a lot (except when they first get drunk).

Your blood viscosity increases when you’re dehydrated, and slower blood means slower energy production for your body. Of course you’re going to feel tired.

Water also helps flush waste byproducts from your body, as well as bacteria, viruses and whatever else. When your blood is thicker and dehydrated, those byproducts sit in your system and induce some degree of response from your body. And then you feel like crap, at best. Sometimes, you begin to feel sick. It’s possible you could exercise and sweat it out, but either way you could use some more water.

Of course, what kind of water you drink matters too. If your tap water quality is garbage, maybe use a good filter or even get distilled water. Vegas tap water was awful, and may have also caused my kidney stone in high school. I have my suspicions about the effects of Chicago tap water on the psychology of the locals, and thus I make sure to drink distilled water as much as possible.

But that’s icing on the cake of the main point: You probably could use more water. Drinking any water typically is better than drinking little to none.

Lack of outdoor activity:

Rampant depression in Seattle is often blamed on the weather. The fallacy goes that cloudy weather equals sadness.

As someone who enjoyed cloudy weather, I don’t get that at all. Or actually, now I do:

People in Seattle use the rainy weather as an excuse to not go out and do anything. They sit at home a lot like hermits, let it be a mental barrier to their engaging the world, and then wonder why they’re depressed.

Meanwhile, I went outside and did something every single day, rain or shine, whether or not I had to work that day. I never let the weather stop me from going outside.

Believe it or not, the clouds do not stop the Sun’s UV rays from reaching Earth. Clouds do filter some of it, but you still get Vitamin D from the sun if you walk outside during cloudy weather. People are depriving themselves of Vitamin D as well as fresh air and exercise… just because it’s not sunny.

(Also, given the weather is such a factor for them, I wonder why many of these people didn’t just move south, where cloudy weather isn’t as present)

Now, some depression has a deeper root cause, some of it more within our control than others, and we can get into that some other time.

But for many people who claim seasonal depression, they probably live their lives with a forced habitual inertia. And they’d probably be surprised at how much better they felt if they got outside and took a long walk every day, no matter what the weather was like.

If they’re up for more than a walk, they may also be surprised at what running, sports, etc., can do for their outlook and their general energy… not to mention their overall health.

There’s plenty of time to indulge in indoor hobbies and other activities. Make some time to get outside, especially if you feel tired and/or emotionally down, and you might find you have more energy than before.


Okay, that last bit got a bit preachy. I have heard the “I’m tired” song and dance a few too many times, from people that probably could have put the above ideas to use.

But seriously I find that whenever I feel tired, even over a long stretch, it often comes down to deficiencies in one or more of those four things.

  1. Sleep
  2. Food quality
  3. Water
  4. Outdoor activity

I’m not claiming any of this will cure cancer or anything like that (… though, if it does, drop me a line and let me know where to pick up my upcoming Nobel Prize).

But you might be surprised at what it does to your chronic fatigue syndrome, or to a lesser extent your overall low-energy.

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Recovery, sleep, diet: It’s all connected

One of the biggest problems I’ve had over time with recovery from hard/long runs and races hasn’t been soreness or lingeirng fatigue. It’s been sleep before and after the run.

Before the run, anxiety can mess with your state of mind and lead to keeping you awake, which obviously impacts the run itself and everything beyond. After the run, you can be so revved up long after you’ve relaxed that it can keep you awake.

This is obviously a huge recovery problem, because sleep is just as if not more important than your nutrition and rest patterns. If you get poor sleep, it messes with just about everything else you do from that night until you get caught up… if you do.

Obviously, a hard or long run revs your heart rate up and taxes your body to a point where following the run it may not totally come down before going to bed that night, even if you lay out all day. What probably happened in a lot of those cases was that I went to bed with a heart rate and state still close to activity-level. Even if I got to sleep, I usually didn’t stay asleep for suitably long.

My game plan yesterday went beyond my route and in-run fueling. I also had food ready with big meals planned for the afternoon and evening. I wasn’t going to make the mistake of going to bed hungry, especially after a 20 mile run.

For lunch I ate about a pound of baked chicken, with four cut+baked potatoes in olive oil, a pretty large meal. I probably drank about a gallon of water between the end of the run and the end of the night. Even after indulging in too many veggie chips around sunset, I made sure to bake and eat three chicken thighs with some more potatoes that evening. I hit the hay around 10:30 and slept pretty well this past night.

This will be important after the Chicago Marathon for one key reason: I have to go back to work the next morning. I can’t afford to be so revved up after a marathon that I sleep 3 hours, and then work all the next day at a gig I can’t take a sick day from.

If I can set a routine to house a big post-race meal, then house two other big meals during the day, with the last meal being an hour or two before bed, plus make sure not to go and do anything else… I think I can calm the motor enough to get to sleep and stay there until morning.

We forget that our bodies are ecosystems, and the different elements of recovery (rest, nutrition and sleep) are all connected.

  • Rest periods can’t do their work if you don’t get suitable nutrition and enough sleep.
  • Nutrition can only do its work if you get needed sleep, and you give your body the inactivity to allow rebuilding.
  • Sleep can’t happen if you’re not effectively fed, and you cannot slow the motor enough to allow yourself to get there.

So in the past I’d struggle with sleep and focus on why I can’t sleep, instead of doing the right thing and looking at how my eating patterns and other habits contribute to my ability to get to sleep and stay asleep that night.

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My keys to a successful running diet

I’ve gotten pretty good at consistently eating a solid diet that successfully augments my training, and I’d like to share some of my keys to success with you.

The standard disclaimers:

This is based on my experience, a truckload of trial and error over years and years, on habits that have consistently produced positive results for me.

Who am I to say any of this works? Well, I am an experienced distance runner…

  • who wasn’t an experienced runner 4 years ago
  • who has lost 30 lbs in those 4 years to achieve an average healthy weight (5’10”, 164 lbs and falling)
  • who (while no Adonis or Achilles) is in decent shape and good health at what is soon to be age 40
  • who runs 30-50 miles a week during training
  • who pretty much doesn’t get injured or burn out anymore
  • who runs basically every day, with my typical run being about 4-6 miles.

Your mileage may vary:

The more experienced you are, and the more volume of training that you do than I do, the more fruitfully you can dismiss and blow off any of this advice.

The less experienced you are and the less you work out, the more likely this advice (however imperfect) can help you.

Take or dismiss it at your own leisure or risk. I am fairly sure none of this general advice will hurt you if you generally follow it… any more than anyone else’s general advice.

Blah blah blah see a doctor before beginning any training program or making any changes blah blah blah. We’re adults.

My keys to a successful running diet:

Aim to eat a maintenance amount of calories during training.

Even if you could afford to lose a few pounds, you’re better off trying to finish even (calories eaten close to or equal to calories burned) than to run a calorie deficit during a training cycle.

Unlike most sedentary people or strength trainers, you actually need those calories. You burn way more calories on a run than people do in the gym. You actually do have a use for carbohydrates, not to mention fat, as your body utilizes that energy on runs. And with all that work, you need all the protein you can get afterward to help rebuild your damaged muscles.

It’s okay to fall short on calories some days, especially if you’re trying to cut fat. If you’re not training for a race, you’re free to run a healthy deficit (500-1000 calories max below your burn per day). But ALWAYS get enough protein. Always make sure you get your needed vitamins and nutrients. Everything else can fall short.

It’s okay to eat at a surplus some days. If possible, try to do so before or during long and intense workout days.

Eat more protein than you think you need.

Eat protein like an entry level bodybuilder: Consume each day at least 1 gram of protein for every 1 lb of total lean body mass (2.2g per kilogram), when actively training.

If not training for an events, a good benchmark is 1 gram of protein for every pound (or 2.2g/kg) equal to 75% of your bodyweight.

There are conflicting opinions on the recommended amount, but 1 gram per pound of lean body mass falls in the middle of most modern recommendations, and makes sense for an endurance athlete who obviously isn’t trying to get swole (extra muscle mass slows you down!), but does need to maintain muscle tissue during training. This is the level at which I’ve found the most consistent, sustainable satisfaction and results.

It’s definitely okay to go over that protein benchmark during and after intense training. The myth that excess protein damages your kidneys has long since been proven false.

Try to get all of your protein from whole food (e.g. meat, legumes). Avoid leaning on protein shakes, unless you find it very hard to prepare or port protein-rich meals during a typical day… or you are vegetarian/vegan. Even then, stick to a max of one protein shake per day. One item that is not a myth is that protein shakes not only lack various key nutrients present in protein rich whole foods…. but excess protein shakes can cause gas and other intestinal problems.

Eat more carbohydrates when needed. Otherwise take it easy on them.

Carbs are best ingested en masse before hard workouts, and immediately after the hardest workouts. Having them in your bloodstream helps you during workouts, and the glycogen lost from hard workouts can be more quickly replenished during meals eaten within 2 hours of a workout.

Eating a bunch of carbs the day or two before a monster workout or a marathon can be helpful for topping off your glycogen stores, but the classic pasta binge before a marathon is a bit overrated. If you’ve tapered your training and been eating a solid diet leading up to the race, you’re probably fine: The decreased exercise combined with your normal diet has probably topped off your glycogen tank for you.

How much? I generally don’t try too hard to count, but adding enough to get within 500 calories of your daily burn has been a fine general benchmark.

Meanwhile, on rest days you should eat far fewer carbs and more natural fat. If I wasn’t training for a marathon I might even do a keto or primal style low-carb diet. Granted, that’s extreme, and just sticking to green vegetables and fruit for carbs on such a day is probably fine.

Eat Clean fat:

I’m talking about fat naturally occurring in whole foods (meat, avocados, some nuts). I only cook with virgin coconut oil or pure olive oil.

Fat is necessary for effective organ function. Also, providing fat for your body during busy days discourages your body from storing fat or converting carbohydrates to fat. Recommendation: Whatever fat comes with your daily whole-food-based protein is probably enough. That’s probably more than the RDA, but it’s not something crazy like 200g either. Typically I’ll finish a 3000 calorie day having consumed about 90-120g of fat.

Eat a minimum of processed food.

This has been preached to death. But I even add in “healthy” processed food like protein bars, or anything in a box really. The extra sodium and other additives lead to water retention, making your heavier and slowing you down.

I’m not opposed to some pizza or a bag of chips here and there. But it’s always bookended by clean, whole food.

Drink water, 100% juice, and milk.

Coffee and tea are fine (but if you add sugar you better be planning to run that day).

Don’t even touch a sports drink unless you’re actively in a long run or a speedwork session.

Gatorade is specifically engineered for use during exercise. You’re not supposed to drink it otherwise. It literally is sugar and salt water.

Eat potassium rich foods and make sure you get enough potassium almost every day.

Your heart and your muscles need potassium to function. Yet most people don’t get close to enough (typically 4000-4500 mg per day). A lack of potassium undermines intense activity, and can be dangerous in some situations.

Bananas. Avocados. Potatoes. Natural cuts of meat. Fruit and vegetables. 4500mg is the RDA benchmark for a reason. Most people fall well short of this.

Don’t supplement: Seek to eat foods that provide it. MUCH better this way, plus you get other needed nutrients.

Take a suitable multivitamin.

You can get all your needed vitamins with a perfect diet, but your best effort will probably come nowhere close to getting them all. Take a multivitamin. Even if you piss a lot of it out, your body will utilize much of it and cover whatever gaps your diet has left.

Recommended: Get a reliable brand that recommends taking 3 pills a day, and just take one with a meal. This way on a tough day you can take 2-3, but you minimize the risk of overdose.

My mother was a mark for Source of Life, a brand specializing in whole food based multivitamins. They’re fine but they’re pricey. Don’t sink to getting a flaky mainstream brand like Centrum, but I’ve found 365’s multis at Whole Foods to be reliable and affordable.

That said, there are some key vitamins a multi tends not to provide that you should supplement separately.

Take a Calcium Magnesium citrate combo supplement, as well as the MK 7 form of Vitamin K2.

Magnesium helps you sleep (which itself is super important for training) and regulates various hormone functions. Most people don’t get enough magnesium. A lack of it can facilitate burnout. Most multivitamins don’t include magnesium in their blends. Take it after dinner.

Calcium is more well known for fortifying bones, and while milk/cheese can be a reliable source of calcium, I don’t consume a ton of either so I make sure to supplement. Since calcium and magnesium go well together they are often sold as a combo vitamin. Calcium citrate is better absorbed than the more common calcium carbonate, and magnesium citrate is better absorbed than magnesium oxide. So a Cal-Mag Citrate supplement is the way to go.

But! Calcium can be harmfully absorbed by the arteries instead of your bones… without the presence of Vitamin K. Most multis provide it but don’t readily supply in an absorbent form. So if available I’d recommend taking a Vitamin K2 supplement in the MK 7 form.

Take a Fish oil supplement, if you aren’t eating wild caught salmon.

Omega 3’s in fish oil reduces overall inflammation and promotes good heart health. If you eat farmed salmon it won’t have as much omega 3 as wild caught salmon.

Salmon is pricey and I find it easier to just take a supplement. Whole Foods sometimes has salmon oil, which I prefer to take. But honestly you can take just about any fish oil supplement and as long as it doesn’t contain soy products you’re probably good.

Most brands ask you take 3-6 pills a day. Just take one after dinner.

If you’re frequently under stress and it’s not easily within your control, take ashwagandha or SAMe.

Ashwagandha is an herb that has all sorts of alleged health benefits, but the one known benefit I’ve experienced is that it helps buffer you against stress. I find a bit of the edge comes off the day when I’m taking it.

My mother was big on SAMe, a supplement originally used to help treat joint pain and similar issues but was later found to have positive effects on depression and stress. You cna call it a super version of ashwagandha if you’d like, as I’ve found it does have even stronger stress-relieving effects on my mental state than ashwagandha. And it also does have a positive effect on joint health and relieving inflammation. SAMe however is a lot more expensive than ashwagandha.

Recommendation: Whichever one you decide to take, just take one pill per day max. And cycle your usage: 8 weeks on max, then 4 weeks off.

A good time to take it is during the latter stages of training for a goal race, and then to stop using it for a while once the race is done. This controls cortisol, helps manage mood, and like magnesium helps you sleep better.

If you’re going to eat junk food, eat protein rich junk food.

I’m not against pizza or hamburgers or any of that.

Surround those meals with super clean meals or intermittent fasting, plus plenty of water. Definitely work out those days, and/or the following day, to ensure you burn those junk calories ASAP.

The Andy Morgan Night Out Rule For Drinking:

Andy Morgan is this guy. He’s a bodybuilder who has perfected a combination of training, intermittent fasting, and proper nutrition into an approach he calls Ripped Body.

The rule: If you’re going to go out and have a night of drinking alcohol, get in all your needed protein for the day BEFORE you head out for the night.

Consider anything good you eat during the night to be a bonus, though if you do eat during a night out you’re probably going to eat junk.

Yes, you’ll probably overeat for the day. This is not a big deal. Make a point to go for a run and eat perfectly clean the next day if it bothers you.

Also (this is not his rule, but mine): Before you go to bed that night, drink 16 oz of water. And you should be drinking water throughout the night of drinking as well.

Should you let yourself go after a race?

The only races after which it’s okay to let your good eating habits completely go for a little while are marathons or longer, where you plan to take some time off. But get back on the wagon no later than a week later. Any race that’s shorter, and you really should just treat it as a hard workout: Keep eating well, keep training.

In conclusion:

This approach has worked very well for me, and I think it can work well for others. I realize the advice scratches the surface, and I invite you the reader to do research on any of this if you so desire.

But I follow this approach 80-99% of the time (sure, I deviate and go off the wagon like anyone… but these are also strong habits that make it easy to go back to and stick to them). It has helped me maintain a high volume of running and to stay healthy, without the use of any sort of artificially performance enhancing substances.

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My Fitbit Daily Tracking Benchmarks

Thanks to my mother, I’ve owned a Fitbit Blaze since Christmas of 2016. Previously I had already been tracking data like my runs, my meals and other exercise on a Google Doc. So getting a tracker that easily kept track of all that and more was a huge deal.

I still map my runs manually (for accuracy, as the GPS utilization isn’t accurate in Chicago), while using the timer, step counter and heart rate monitor to track those items.

Along with those items, I have set a series of daily activity and diet goals based on my activity, training and weight loss that I feel has gotten me to where I need to be.

My Fitbit Physical Benchmarks:

16,000 steps

As someone who lives in a big city and does a lot of traveling on foot, I’ve always found that 10,000 is a bit too easy for me to reach (rare is the day where I don’t log at least 10K-12K steps), while 20,000 requires quite a bit of work (if I go on a fairly long run I can get there).

The bar that requires just enough effort in a day to reach has been 16,000. That’s around 7 miles of walking or running.

10 floors

This is the standard Fitbit benchmark, and that works just fine for me. On an easy day, I may get to sunset well short and need to take a hike up the stairs at my apartment building. Often, the elevation changes in my running are more than enough to account for well over 10 floors.

Right now I’m working at an assignment that requires some stair climbing between the train stations and the building itself. I often sit down at work having already climbed 6-8 floors.

That’s probably all I’m looking for with that.

90 minutes of activity

The standard benchmark was 60 minutes, but again I commute on foot, and I found this a bit too easy to reach most days. Asking 90 minutes usually requires a lot of walking or some sort of serious workout, whether a run or a lot of time in the gym or similar.

On some lazier days I may get to sunset with less than 15-30 minutes, but usually I hit 90 minutes almost by accident, often in the middle of a run.

3000 calories burned

Given my diet, I find 3000 calories to be the sweet spot for a required daily burn. And sure enough, given my daily activity it seems to be a consistent benchmark. On lazier days I can finish at 2200-2500 calories, but often with a workout and any amount of extended activity I can get to 3000 without a problem.

My record calorie burn in a day right now is 5400, which of course was on the last day I attempted to log a 20 miler (after which I logged a recovery run in the evening, making it a Bulls**t 20).

6.0 miles

I barely track this, since if I hit the other benchmarks I almost certainly traveled six miles between walking, running and anything else I was doing during the day.

But it’s a fine barometer later in the day if I find myself short on most goals. If I’m short X miles, then traveling the needed miles to get to 6 will likely get me to the other goals.

Afternoon activity: 250 steps every hour 3pm-8pm

I find Fitbit’s forced tracking of hourly 250 step goals annoying, but also in some way helpful. I set it to a tolerable minimum: 5 hours during the afternoon and early evening.

At least here it asks me to find 250 steps during a time when energy and attention span tends to flag. Getting up and walking a bit to meet the silly machine-demanded goal can help clear my head and keep me moving.

Other notes:

  • If my resting heart rate goes up by more than 1 bpm over 24 hours, or goes up on consecutive days, I usually take preventative action: Get to bed earlier, drink more water, eat more protein, relax, or change up training in light of recent activity. Often I’m well aware of likely causes for this (short sleep the night prior, tough workout the day before, etc).
  • I try to avoid consecutive days with a calorie surplus, unless I’m about to go on a massive workout or race, like a 20 miler, a hardcore interval session, or a marathon.
  • If I gain weight day over day, I often look to either run a calorie deficit, intermittent fast for the next day, or both (which is fairly easy). If planning to do more than a recovery run, I will definitely avoid going short on calories and instead just intermittent fast during the morning.
  • I make sure to consume no less than 130g protein, and aim for at least 140g. Busy as I am, I need the protein to re-build muscle and other key tissue etc. If I miss both benchmarks I at least get as close as I can with protein intake, and aim to exceed both the following day.
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My observed pros and cons of different kinds of running fuel on long runs

In many of my long training runs I have not only experimented with fueling during runs (as training for doing so in races), but have also done so because given the scope of the run I needed to. I have tried a wide range of fueling options, as recommended by various sources, and have found that all have their particular advantages and disadvantages.

Ultimately, in a long distance race I prefer to utilize Gatorade if they have it on course. Barring that (e.g. if they use a no-calorie sports drink like Nuun), I’ll bring Clif Shot Bloks. For anything shorter than 10 miles I’ll often just tough it out and drink water… maybe whatever sports drink they have if I feel like it.

But again, for workouts I’ve tried a variety of different fueling sources, and here’s my observed advantages and disadvantages for each:

Bringing small snacks (e.g.a protein bar or granola bar)

Advantages: Something like a protein or granola bar feels a lot more satisfying than other fuel sources while running. It’s usually closer to actual food! They often contain protein and fat, which are more satiating.

Disadvantages: Small snacks can make a mess, or worse yet fall out of my hands on the ground more easily. Because they must be eaten, they can pose a choking risk, or to lesser extent make it hard to breathe when I try to eat them while running. De-packaging them can be more of a pain than the quicker consumption afforded by drinks and gels.

Verdict: While I’m never against bringing a snack with me, it’s something I won’t go out of my way to do. I definitely won’t turn down a protein bar for the road before a run, however.

Syrups

I have experimented with different kinds of syrups, such as honey and raw agave, mostly going with raw agave due to its viscosity making it easier to pour from a gel flask. I would consume these intermittently throughout the run.

Advantages: They are a dense form of quickly digested sugar carbohydrate, which provides much-needed glycogen during a long run. A single ounce can contain about 100 calories (25g) of pure sugar. This buys muscles time and distance before exhausting  glycogen stores.

Disadvantages: These sugars are simple and the body may only use this fuel to maintain bodily functions rather than fuel your lower body muscles. Both are sticky and can create a mess even if you do not spill. Honey in particular is very viscous and may flow too slowly from a container during a run to be useful. Practically, you need a container to dispense these syrups such as a gel flask, and these typically only hold 5-6 oz. For very long runs, this might not be enough fuel.

Verdict: I did raw agave for a while, but I’m probably done with using it as a long run fuel source. Thankfully I’ve built up the endurance to finish 15-20 milers without fuel, so it’s no longer necessary like before.

Gels

The most commonly used form of fuel in long distance races. These are typically sold in single use disposable 100 calorie packs.

Advantages: Unlike syrups and other sugars, gels are specifically engineered to quickly provide glycogen for your muscles rather than just general function. Gels typically come in single use packets and are more easily portable.

Disadvantages: Gels taste nasty (don’t @ me about the flavors having gotten better, runners. A better tasting version of motor oil still tastes like motor oil). Though portable, the gels are still messy, possibly more so than syrups. They’re even more viscous, making it harder to extract and consume. I typically need to wash it down with a lot of water. You also have to find a way to dispose of the used packets. In races runners tend to do the worst: Dropping used packets on the ground behind them, for other runners to slip on. This alone turns me off of them, but the other stuff doesn’t help either.

Verdict: Hell no. As I say to people when Papa John’s pizza arrives, how the hell do you people eat this crap?

Gatorade

The classic sugar and electrolyte solution in a bottle or mixed in a container of varying size. You drink it while working out and it replenishes you.

Advantages: Drinking Gatorade kills two birds with one stone, hydrating you with an electrolyte-packed drink that also provides glycogen-rich calories. When running races, most provide it free of charge just as they do water. It’s also a lot more widely available at stores, and usually at a cheap price. If you’re lucky they sell bottles out of a refrigerated case, making it doubly refreshing!

Disadvantages: It’s liquid, meaning it has more weight and takes up more volume than other fueling options. A typical bottle of Gatorade can weigh anywhere from 1-2 pounds, which slows me down during running until I drink it and it’s in me.

Also, it can only carry so many calories: A 32 oz bottle only has about 240ish calories, and if you need 500+ calories in fuel for something like a marathon, that’s not going to cut it. You simply can’t carry that much Gatorade.

If it’s mixed in person instead of bought factory-made (Hint: The Gatorade served at races is often mixed on-site), there’s a chance it may not be mixed correctly, and you may not get the full caloric benefit… defeating a key purpose of drinking it. Also, if it’s hot outside, liquid warms… and Gatorade tastes like a nasty sugar soup when it’s warm.

Verdict: I find Gatorade terrific and if it was healthy to do so I’d drink a ton of it after workouts (Hint: you’re supposed to drink it while working out, not after; it’s literally sugar water). If carrying it wasn’t too much of a burden I’d carry a bottle with me on every long or intense workout. But if I want it for a long run I’ll have to find a way to get some during the run, then house it before continuing. Or pay someone to carry it behind me while riding a bike. (Hint: I’m currently NOT accepting applications for this role)

Chews

Clif Shot Bloks. Honey Stingers. These are gummy like things you chew before or during a workout to provide the same sort of sugar-loaded energy as gels or Gatorade. A typical small pack will contain 150-200 calories, and some versions contain caffeine.

Advantages: Like gels and Gatorade, chews are engineered to digest quickly for use as muscular glycogen, and are a perfect fuel for races and key runs. A typical package provides 150-200 calories of workout-friendly sugars in an easily chewable pack. The packs are esaily portable, and in my experience they do charge up your workout quickly once ingested… even the non-caffeinated versions.

Disadvantages: Compared to other fuel options these are not cheap: a typical pack of 6 chews can cost $2.50-3.00. Like with other food, eating it during a run can make it hard to breathe.

Also, if I need more than one 200 calorie pack (which I certainly do in marathons and other similar long runs), they take up considerable space once you’re carrying more than 2-3 of them. When I attempted Vancouver I had to wear two fanny packs, with one holding just my Bloks for the race.

Also, because they’re a solid (albeit soft) food, they can be a choking hazard if you consume while running. They don’t always go down easy and I sometimes need to chase some with water. I abhor stopping a race completely just to eat them.

Eating a small meal ahead of time

Whenever I have time, on the morning of a race or a long run I try to have a quick breakfast sandwich with a shot of espresso before heading to the race site.

Advantages: This not only sates me but effectively pre-loads my bloodstream with some ready-to-use fat and glycogen, boosting my capabilities, saving the glycogen in my muscles to some extent. A bonk becomes quite unlikely when I eat right before a run.

Disadvantages: I don’t always have the time, space or means to prepare/eat a small meal before a run. In some cases, I may need to take a crap shortly after a meal… not ideal during a run! There’s some prep (that I won’t get into) the day prior I can do to avoid the possibility of this, but it’s still an unwelcome possibility.

Verdict: I always, always try to eat a meal a couple hours before a race. On occasion if there’s time and space I’ll try and eat breakfast before a morning long run. I’ll definitely make sure to eat 3ish hours beforehand if a hard/long workout takes place in the afternoon. But I just did my last 18+ miler early in the morning with no food in me and none taken during the run. So outside of races it’s certainly not necessary.

Breaking the run in half and then eating at halftime

I’ve done this more recently. Basically, I go on a long run, but at some point past the halfway mark I stop for a bit to eat and something to drink, chill out a bit, then resume shortly after finishing the meal.

Advantages: This can help ease the hard work of a long run, by breaking the run into two shorter runs. The fuel from a meal definitely feels welcome after several miles, and comes in handy for those last miles. It can help get a head start on recovery from the initial part of the run. Also, I get to take a rest.

Disadvantages: As mentioned before, my bowels may act up with food in the tank, especially if I resume running right after eating. It’s also possible that I cool down to the point where I need to once again warm up or ease into the 2nd half of the run. I’ve typically felt better after stopping (I tend to handle working out right after eating fairly well), but sometimes I do come out of the meal creaky.

Verdict: If I’m training for a longer race, especially if I’m late in the training cycle… breaking up the long run might compromise the value of that long run. I mitigate this by only stopping after having run for 2.0-2.5 hours, which is the back wall recommended for most long runs anyway. Extending the run after that isn’t a problem with a break. Otherwise, I have no problem breaking up a long run with a halftime meal.

In fact, I did so twice over the last few months! My first crack at 20 miles (which sadly only went 19.45 due to a miscalc) had a halftime where I stopped in Edgewater for food and drink at Whole Foods. And last month I stopped at a hot dog stand near Navy Pier during the back end a 17 miler, treating myself to a hot dog and some Powerade. Hit the spot.

Not eating at all

This is what I do most often! This is what most people do for most runs. You don’t worry about fuel, and just do the damn run. For most runs this is totally fine. Even for most longer runs this is totally fine. To do the longest runs this way can be challenging, and can also be rewarding training depending on goals for the run (e.g. running to deplete your glycogen stores to practice running in that state).

Advantages: Not worrying about fuel makes long workouts a lot simpler. I won’t have to worry about timing fuel intake or other distractions. I also train my body to handle glycogen depletion on longer runs, which better prepares me to handle key late points in races such as the marathon.

Disadvantages: If I’m training for a marathon, practicing fueling is valuable and this could be a lost opportunity to either practice or experiment with fueling in-race. Based on the length of the run, I could bonk during the run, perhaps increase the likelihood of injury, illness or some other setback. Not fueling could also compromise performance on some longer runs (maybe I want to practice some tempo segments), which depending on my goals could be an issue.

Verdict: If it’s not a race or a dangerously long distance, running without fuel is the way to go. If it’s very long or I need to practice marathon fueling, then I really should bring some fuel.

In Conclusion….

I’m hungry.

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Things I wish I had done in marathon training

I’m running the Vancouver Marathon in Canada in less than two weeks. At this point I’m into the taper, and at the point where adaptions from any further quality training wouldn’t be manifested until after the day of the race. So making any dramatic changes to my training plan, aside from skipping a run if I’m feeling unduly worn out or sore, would not benefit me further. Beyond tomorrow, I’m basically as trained for the marathon as I am going to get.

I recognized the importance of developing and sticking to a single training plan, and feel good about having trained consistently over the past 3-4 months. I took days off and reduced volume as needed, but otherwise stuck to my overall basic plan cycles as intended.

– 45-50 miles max per week, with average around 35-40.
– One longer than everything else long run at least every other week
– 1-2 quality workouts per week (speedwork, tempo run, or at least a training run harder/faster than the others)
– 2-5 other easy or recovery runs per week surrounding those, with easy runs replacing quality workouts when applicable.
– At least one rest day per week, with others taken when needed due to soreness, substantial fatigue or other life events.
– If I ran a race, that always replaced the long run, or the long run was moved to at least 4 days before or after the race.
– Consume at least 20g of lean protein and an accordant amount of clean carbs (like fruit) as soon as possible after any workout longer than 30 minutes.

That said, I still throughout my training have read up on various training methodologies and ideas. I made a point not to implement anything new that would dramatically shift my existing schedule or training focus. But there are things that, looking back now, I would have implemented or explored given the chance to go back and start over… which of course I can do when I run another marathon!

12 THINGS I WANT TO DO NEXT TRAINING CYCLE:

1. Better defining phases of training

Most experienced runners who have followed training plans or worked with coaches know a quality training plan generally follows a series of phases: Base building, speed development, strength building (aka being able to hold existing and newly developed speed over long-distance), and then specific final-touch training/prep for your race.

Most of the training plans I examined admittedly didn’t itemize these phases. The closest any came was the Hanson Method, which differentiated between focusing on speed work before switching to “strength” work (longer training segments closer to your goal pace). All of them assume the trainee is beginning from a basic, reduced volume of running. Even the Daniels plans, while the plans for shorter races did break out training by phases, only listed plans as a single 18+ week block or a single repeatable 4-5 week cycle.

When I laid out my final plan, I basically did so the same way. As a result I jack-of-all-traded training on speed, tempo, endurance… mixing everything in on the regular but never really giving any single element the due focus that would have yielded better improvement. My training runs stagnated whether or not I took extra time to rest, whether I did reduced or higher volume. Prior to the recent Lakefront 10, I didn’t feel fully prepared for my prior tune-up races and the results showed that.

I think part of the problem was I didn’t break the plan into focused phases, where I’d spend four weeks building a base, four weeks focusing only on speed and running economy workouts, four weeks holding a closer-to-goal tempo over miles, etc. Like in life, I find when I focus on a main task or goal, my results are better. While the consistent volume of my training was a plus, the sameness of a lot of my training may have been a problem.

So, next time I will make sure my training plan has a clear base phase, a clear phase of speed workouts, a clear phase of longer tempo work, and then a ramp towards the race.

2. Spend quality time every week at your goal race pace

Jonathan Savage offers the taper recommendation of doing all your runs at your goal pace. However weird that sounds to you (and while intriguing I’m not totally sure about that recommendation myself)… the idea, to get used to the feel of your pace, is a good reminder of the importance of regularly practicing your goal pace. You are the product of your habits, you play like you practice, ten thousand hours blah blah blah. You get where I’m going with this.

I worked a single tempo run of varying moderate-long lengths into my training, a Hanson concept, once a week over an extended period of training. The Hansons had the right idea, but I think it would have been more productive to do more goal-tempo running at shorter distances, more often. Going from several days of easy running with maybe one other hard workout… to having to run at a moderately fast tempo for 5+ uninterrupted miles is a little excessive and tough.

But I recall how Hal Higdon would recommend new runners train for a 5K: Start with three short-ish runs a week, take all the other days off. Make those short-ish runs a bit longer each week, until finally you’re running 3 miles at a time around week 7. Boom, you’re ready for the 5K. It’s how I got into running, and I found his plan easy to implement.

If I have a goal pace in mind and it’s do-able, it’s certainly easy to run it in shorter chunks several days a week, probably within other easy training runs. Running a bit faster for a couple miles in or at the end of a 6 mile run is not a big deal. Get used to it, then I can run it for 3 miles, then 4, etc. If I still want to do the long tempo run once a week or two, I can, but then at least I’m not doing it cold turkey every week. I’m just extending what I’ve already been practicing. Way easier to get accustomed to running at that pace.

3. Using the treadmill as a training gauge rather than a training tool

I hate the treadmill and have made no secret of this to anyone who knows me. It’s also practically not as effective a form of distance-run training as running outdoors. I will (and do) run all winter in sub zero temps before I’ll ever commit to running regularly on a treadmill.

But recently, while trying to internalize and hone my goal pace, as well as desired training paces, I discovered its obvious value: You can set the machine to that pace, and you’ll have no choice but to run at that pace.

Now, I’m not about to do a 4+ mile training run on a treadmill just because I want to make sure to run an 8:30 mile. But ahead of tempo training for that pace, I can certainly get on the treadmill and run some at the 8:30 pace (plus other related paces) to get a handle on how the cadence for that pace feels, if it’s feasible or too slow for me, etc., before I go out on the road and work to replicate that pace.

I’ve been doing this more over the last week or two after having figured this out, but now that I know I’ll make sure to use it early in training to help the rest of my training.

4. Strategically use compression gear

It’s a mother’s-love thing and a little funny to me. But I told my mother about my finish at last November’s Las Vegas Rock N Roll Half Marathon: I passed an older, struggling man dressed as Elvis just in sight of the finish line. I cheered him on with something like, “Keep it going, Elvis! You’re almost there!” As I turned to continue, both my calves seized up with cramps. Never minding this weird reverse-karma, I hobbled at pace and finished just fine.

I guess I could have hydrated a bit better but it was more amusing to me than anything. My mother responded to this by immediately mail-ordering me a pair of Zensah calf compression sleeves.

At first, I wore them a couple of times (including in a subsequent race) and found them constrictive. That’s what they’re for, right? So I said maybe I shouldn’t use them.

Except there were a lot of points where I struggled with sore, stiff calves, had to work on my feet all day before training that evening, and discovered wearing them was very helpful during those more-painful work/training days. They provided much needed support, helped circulate blood etc, and I found my calves would feel better after a day or three of use.

So now I do wear them somewhat regularly as needed. Thanks, Mom!

But next time, I can see wearing them on a more scheduled basis, such as the day or the Monday after a longer run, a race or other hard workout. They may not help me run faster, but they may help me accelerate recovery to those muscle fibers while also providing lower body support so I’m not overcompensating and risking injury elsewhere.

I also started doing the same with my compression pants and shorts. Aside from wearing them in workouts, I’ve also worn them to work under my work clothes. Sure, in part that was a product of wanting to layer against extreme cold, but after tough workouts I immediately saw a similar benefit in recovery. They can be of use beyond just workout days.

5. Worry less about hydration before a run, and worry more about it during the run

The key benefit I’ve seen from making a point to hydrate before going out on a training run is having the extra need to take a piss at multiple times during the run.

Yes, I get thirsty and dry during runs, and I’ve found that happens whether or not I hydrate before the run.

Not a lot to unpack there. I need to make sure to bring water or train near water, and of course if running a race that problem’s mostly solved. But unless I’m dry as the desert before going out, there’s no need to drink any extra water ahead of a training run. Whatever water I take in during the day is enough.

6. Use your big hills, whether or not your goal race has hills

On my longest runs I would go far south of my Wrigleyville home, as far south as Soldier Field… as I would want to run up the sledding hill before running back down the zig-zag ramp and heading back north. It was a good challenge in the middle of a 15+ mile run.

However, as I charged up and down Cricket Hill at the end of the recent Lakefront 10, I wished that I could have put in more hill work. I’ve had and taken my share of opportunities (which I needed since the early portion of Vancouver has some challenging hills), and my schedule did impose limits on how often I could access said hills for said hill work.

But given the opportunity to plan for it, you can definitely incorporate it. Next time I want to spend a lot more quality time with Cricket Hill, and to a lesser extent the slight uphill near Grant Monument in South Lincoln Park. Hills are an easy way to build lower body strength.

7. Implement downhill running workouts, early in training

The big thing though is that on top of your traditional uphill intervals… I wanted to take up Savage’s recommendation to do downhill intervals. Downhills really beat up your quads, but the quads heal substantially stronger and more durable after a few weeks.

Obviously it’s too late now to try this (and even if not you have to do so carefully + not too fast, as downhill running can be more dangerous). But it’s definitely worth a shot early in the next training cycle.

8. Keep cross training simple

During this training cycle I joined a gym and took advantage of two cross training cardio machines I like: The stationary bike and the rowing machine. The latter was a full-body substitute or rest day exercise, while the bike was often a cooldown bookend to my standard Northwestern-to-Loyola training runs.

I’m sure there was some slight training benefit, but I suspect the bike did little more than further aggravate the soreness and fatigue in my legs, while the rowing machine simply wore out muscles I could just as quickly and easily train with heavy weights (while also making my hands hurt). Plus, neither burned a substantial amount of calories, and part of the goal is to keep a calorie burn similar to training days. I would have accomplished just as much by walking another mile.

Hal Higdon always recommends walking as the primary form of cross training, and lately I put more time on running-days-off towards just taking a long walk. It’s relaxing and probably as effective. That said, there are still various hormonal and health benefits to basic weight training (I don’t push heavy weight or do a ton of reps), so I’ll continue to do that.

Next time around, if I need to cross train I’ll just take a long walk and do some light weight work a couple days a week.

9. A 20 miler is okay, as long as you get to and do several runs at 16

Almost every major training scribe slams the idea of a non-elite runner running more than 16 miles for their longest marathon run. The idea is that elites who swear by the 20 can finish it in 2.5 hours, which many cite as the longest period you should spend on a single training run (running longer isn’t believed to benefit your aerobic capacity but does damage your body, and may require you to miss training). For most to run 20 would take them 3-4 hours, which goes beyond that itemized threshold.

I did a lot of 15-16 mile runs leading up to the 20 I planned to do (anyway) about a couple weeks ago. I topped three hours on those runs, so I was already in theory beyond the aerobic-value threshold. But I found that I felt about the same after those runs as I did after other long runs, and was able to bounce back into regular training in the next day or two.

I ran 20 and though I hurt for various reasons (many totally within my control: I didn’t fuel and hydrate as effectively as I wanted to, and even bonked at mile 19), I got it done, was totally able to resume training normally two days later, and it was a valuable hurdle to clear.

Because here’s the thing with the 20: It’s not necessarily about physically prepping you for the marathon any more than a 16 would. It’s psychological, about stretching yourself to a long enough distance that the remaining miles don’t seem so daunting. If you physically get through 20, you can see yourself battling through another 6.2188 (just a hair over 10K). Some may like to argue that shouldn’t matter, and if you’re experienced at running the distance then it probably doesn’t. But to those who haven’t really run it, I say it does. It certainly did to me!

But a key to this, what I think made sure I passed the 20 with flying colors, is that I did a lot of longer runs in the weeks prior to attempting 20. If I did one 16 miler, and then tried to do 20, I probably would have broke… because my body wouldn’t have been accustomed to that kind of distance. I do wish I had done more than a couple, though: The 20 would have hurt a lot less.

So I think next time I’ll probably do a 20 again, and I’ll certainly make sure to get in several 16’s over a few fortnights leading up to it. And hopefully next time I hydrate and fuel well enough not to bonk at mile 19.

10. EAT CLEAN ALL THE TIME

My diet overall has been about 60-80% healthy, built around baked chicken, vegetables, rice and plain pasta, and I do all my cooking with unrefined coconut oil. I still have eaten my share of processed food, not necessarily as cheat meals but as protein-dense fill-ins for the self-prepared whole foods I should have eaten instead (Eastside Cafe sausage pizzas are allegedly a terrific source of protein, by the way).

During last year, running regularly, I got my weight down to about 160 from about 170 (I originally weighed as much as 193 but worked that down beforehand). Then suddenly in autumn it began creeping up again, and recently topped out at 170-172 again. I tinkered with elements of my diet, managed my calorie intake against my burn, and of course ran a lot, but I just couldn’t get my weight to trend back down. In fact it took effort just to keep it even.

I noticed that when I ate most processed food for dinner I either woke up strangely hungry or didn’t feel as rebuilt/rested/fulfilled as someone who ate 180 grams of protein should. I realized that maybe the metric load of processed nutrients might not be as useful to a busy, rebuilding body as more natural whole foods.

I ate more green vegetables, more home-cooked baked chicken, lighter snacks like popcorn, etc. Suddenly the weight began peeling off again, without any adverse effects. I suspect in the short run the loss of water weight from eliminating processed sodium is a factor, but I also suspect the more nutrient-dense food is having its effect.

So, aside from any celebratory meals after Vancouver, and a beer or two during random events, I’m probably going to stick to cleaner whole food at home and at work. I don’t think I can healthily peel much weight before Vancouver, but I can definitely shed a few more pounds before the next race.

11. Strategically use intermittent fasting to moderate body fat and calorie intake

I used to intermittent fast (the process of eating all your meals in an 8ish hour window, so that you go 16ish hours without eating… the easiest way to do this is to skip breakfast), and it worked well for me, especially with losing weight in a healthy way. But this was before I began running. When you need to make sure you’re well fed and not catabolically broken down in any way before a 6 mile run that will catabolically break you down even more, it’s more important to ensure you’re properly fed than to torch fat. So I religiously avoided it… until recently.

With the above mentioned weight problem, I decided to experiment with fasting in the morning on off days, and on a select basis before some lighter training sessions. Any other day (or even any day where I wake up unusually hungry), I just eat breakfast as normal. I found I have better energy overall, and this is something I’ll probably want to do on a touch and go basis going forward.

12. Know how to start ANY race, let alone the marathon

Everyone knows but few actually do it: You want to start races conservatively instead of going out hard. You want to start slower, build to your tempo, and then finish fast. I knew this, but only in my last race (the Lakefront 10) did I actually apply it to the letter.

In my previous races I struggled to keep a fast pace (often slowing badly down the stretch, especially in anything beyond the 8K distance). This last time, I went out very deliberately and let everyone who wanted to pass me. I eventually settled into a comfortable pace that turns out was a bit faster than I expected, and over the final 5 miles I ended up passing a lot of people while comfortably maintaining my improved pace en route to a smashing PR.

This was a vital happy accident, as the key to not crashing and burning in this upcoming marathon will be to go out slow and patient as everyone else around you gets too excited for their own good, so that I can find my pace on my own time and finish on my own terms. It was important for me to experience what it felt like to successfully do it right.

And of course it’s something I will want to do in order shorter races going forward, including tune up races. In the Lakefront I crossed the 10K marker in what would have been my PR at 10K. If I apply it effectively to every other race, I anticipate I’ll be able to smash other PR’s, even if I’m not training for those distances.

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Better luck next time, obviously. But for now, I need to focus on THIS time. I run Vancouver in 11 days!

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On sleeping in summer, and sleeping after night workouts

A couple good not-so-known nuggets in here on why we don’t sleep well, and some not-so-known ideas for how to sleep better.

– This points to why I usually haven’t slept as well in summer, and it’s not neighbors blasting music at parties: My core body temperature was often too high to sleep effectively. The hot bath idea is a good trick to attempt.
– According to my Fitbit tracker I also have a lower resting heart rate during warmer months, and my weight tends to be lower during those months (regardless of how I eat). While I definitely want to make sure I work on getting better sleep in summer, it’ll be interesting to see if my resting heart rate and weight take the corresponding turn anyway.
– Though I currently follow a better sleep schedule than I have before, and have been getting decent sleep, I’m still prone to waking up super early, occasionally being unable to get to sleep, or waking up having logged little REM or deep sleep. This trick may be worth a shot:

If you’re only able to sleep 6 hours a night, then restrict yourself to 5. You’ll feel like poop the next day and crash hard…

But then only let yourself sleep 5 hours and 15 minutes. Now you feel like double poop and will be out before your head hits the pillow. So go to 5 hours and 30 minutes… And as long as you meet your designated quota, incrementally increase the amount of sleep you allow yourself. No naps.

You’ll be a zombie for a while but this is actually a core part of what is now quickly becoming the first-line treatment for chronic insomnia: CBT-I. The application of cognitive behavioral therapy to sleep issues.

One of the more paradoxical CBT-I methods used to help insomniacs sleep is to restrict their time spent in bed, perhaps even to just six hours of sleep or less to begin with. By keeping patients awake for longer, we build up a strong sleep pressure—a greater abundance of adenosine. Under this heavier weight of sleep pressure, patients fall asleep faster, and achieve a more stable, solid form of sleep across the night. In this way, a patient can regain their psychological confidence in being able to self-generate and sustain healthy, rapid, and sound sleep, night after night: something that has eluded them for months if not years. Upon reestablishing a patient’s confidence in this regard, time in bed is gradually increased.

 

Though on most weeknights I finish my running no later than 7pm… I do log group workouts on Monday and Wednesday later than is ideal, ending around 8pm. By the general rule, you want to get to sleep at least 3 hours after your last workout or you’ll have trouble sleeping well. This is probably more of an issue for older people, but guess who’s pushing 40? 😉

So, let’s say instead of trying to go to bed after a racing team workout or a Monday group run at 9-10 pm and hoping for the best, only to end up with screwed up sleep… I actively short my sleep on those nights by turning in three hours after the end of the run, then afford myself the option of turning in 15 minutes earlier than last night’s time, such as:

Wed: 11:00pm
Thu: 10:45pm
Fri: 10:30pm
Sat: 10:15pm
Sun: 10:00pm

If on Thursday or afterward I’m definitely tired enough to pass out at 9pm, then great I’ll do that. Unless of course I keep waking up early, in which case I’ll make myself stay up until the listed time and then pass out. Note that my typical shut-down time these days is somewhere between 9:00-10:00pm, so by Sunday I would in theory be back to my “normal” schedule.

If I skip the Monday run I would just turn in for bed normally until Wednesday. But if I do the Monday run, which due to a cooldown run home usually concludes my running around 7:45pm or so, then I would turn in per the following schedule.

Mon: 10:45pm
Tue: 10:30pm

Then once Wednesday comes, I once again turn in later per the above Wed-Sun schedule, and repeat. Obviously, if I skip the Wednesday workout and don’t do a later run, then I can follow my normal sleep schedule as usual.

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Thinking about this with such a level of detail may seem excessive to many, but this is the depths to which I’ve gone to fine tune my day to day habits and life to improve my training and recovery. It’s not only paid dividends over time, but it’s been vital to keeping me upright, let alone in good health.

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Random things I learned over my time running, with no explanation

The harder your feet hit the ground, the quicker you’ll get tired and the more you will hurt.

You’ve got to eat like a bodybuilder: A whole food minimally processed diet anchored by lots of clean protein.

Sleeping well matters a LOT more.

The quicker your feet can step during a run, the easier keeping a faster pace will be.

In cold weather you will warm up after 20 minutes of running.

To race great you have to go out slower than everyone else wants to, and resist keeping up with them.

If you take advantage, life will give you lots of opportunity to practice running in little bursts.

If you can comfortably run in them, lighter and less-cushioned shoes feel better.

If your body can handle it, walking and weight training will not only make you stronger but help you heal between workouts.

You’ll know by feel when you shouldn’t use a pair of shoes for training anymore.

Perfect temperatures can actually be too hot for running.

Most people don’t understand the importance of fueling during long runs.

Most people over-fuel on shorter regular runs.

Big races are overrated, and consistent high-volume training is underrated.

Most people do their easy/regular/recovery running way too fast and hard.

If someone runs or bikes close to you on an empty path, they’re intentionally harrassing you.

Beginning runners try to do too much right away.

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